Saturday, January 03, 2009

Traveling - Toby 4

Dh and DD head back to Dubai today. It's a strange feeling really - them leaving without me yet I still have the boys for another couple of days. I have to say Christmas and New Year 2008 have to be one of the best if not the best ever. I felt sadness for those no longer with us but over all they were days filled with laughter and love - a tremendous gift.

Now onto something writerly of sorts - by pulling Toby's story out of AR it has given me the chance to analyse why this part of AR works and has always worked for me. The rest of the story doesn't any more - bits of it do but I now have the distance I can see the weaknesses. In the past I have never been any good at getting enough distance from my work. Finally, I can. I think it helps that I have written and revised another full novel and am underway with another. Have any of you found this? At what point in your writing life did this ability arrive? And if it has - have you been able to use it or is just that you can see the faults, but not know how to fix them (I think this might be where I am sitting at the moment but as I won't let myself touch the rest of the book until the dirty draft is done of current book I won't know for a bit)?

London, 17th April 1846
Toby sat patiently on the stool by the window holding a model boat in his hands. As he peered over Frederick’s shoulder, he could see his mother looking at him. She was so beautiful in a white gown that draped onto the floor. Around her long neck were the Trevenen sapphires and in her hand she held a deep red rose in full bloom whose petals looked about to fall to the ground. It was her eyes that reached him. He remembered those eyes watching him as he would run on the lawns in summer.
“Tobias, do you want to stretch? You’ve been sitting for a while.”
“I am fine.” Toby gave Frederick a weak smile.
“Well, I need another cup of tea and maybe some lunch. You are looking a bit pale.”
Toby climbed down from the stool. He supposed he was a bit stiff from sitting, but he didn’t want to move away from his mother’s painting. Why didn’t his father have it in the house? It was so beautiful. She was so beautiful. He had heard her voice in his head, but now he could see her.
“May I look at what you’ve done?” Toby bent down to the floor to stretch his leg muscles.
“Tobias, I do not let anyone see my work until it is finished.”
“Is that why my father was arguing with you?”
Frederick put down the teapot and turned to Toby.
“You remember that?” Toby nodded and placed the boat aside. It was not the colour nor was it the shape of his boat, but it was a lovely model. He liked the way the lugger sail moved back and forth when he blew it. He longed to be on the water again, but would have to wait until summer when he could go home.
“No, that was not why we argued. You were six when you came here before?”
“No, not yet." It was late November and the day had been brighter than this. The trees had been bare do to fierce storms that had blown through at Trevenen House. just before he and his father had traveled to London. The weather was such a contrast to the beautiful summer that year. He and his mother had often walked slowly through the woods talking and enjoying each plant and animal they had seen. She had left for America a few days later.
He remembered that she had spent a week in London before sailing. That must have been when she sat for the portrait. She had written to him from London and from Southampton. He still had both letters and the ones she wrote from America. The last one was posted from New York just before the she left.
She was in America when they came to London. His father was solemn that week not speaking very often. Toby thought his father was counting down the days until his mother returned just as he was. They had stayed with his uncle Charles in Chelsea. The house was always in chaos from what Toby could tell. He had four cousins and he liked them all, but they were all much older even though Charles was his father’s younger brother. Charles had married young and very well they all said. Toby felt it must have been love and not money as his uncle was always happy unlike his father. Father was happier when mother was around, but even then he wasn’t as happy as Charles. Toby rubbed his forehead.
“Why did you and Father argue?”
“It was a long time ago, Tobias.”
“Only seven years ago,” said Toby.
“That can be a long time.”
“Yes, I suppose it can be." Toby paused then pressed on. "Why are you painting me? Did father ask you to?” Toby stood by the window looking out at the small garden. There was no grass now although there had been seven years ago.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, I know you argued with father. I know that you still have my mother’s portrait. So I am puzzled why you are painting me now. Somehow I feel that my father doesn’t know.”
Frederick laughed and put the tray with tea and sandwiches on the rickety table.
“You’re no fool Tobias Trevenen. You, I think, are much like your mother.”
“Yes, now that I have seen your portrait of her I do resemble her somewhat.”
“I didn’t mean in looks although that is also the case.”
“You meant I think as she did?”
“How well did you know mother?”
Frederick sat down on the sofa and Toby remained by the window.
“Come, sit, and eat.”

Toby hesitated. Frederick took a sandwich. Toby watched the hands on the bread which he had watched move swiftly with the brush. Toby had guessed that Frederick was making fast broad brushstrokes at the time with the occasional little flicks.
“Will you answer my questions?”
Frederick gave a short dry laugh. Toby sensed that there was something he was missing. He took a sandwich.
“I’m thinking about it. I do suppose you have a right to know who asked to have your painting done if nothing else.”
Toby took a sip of tea and waited.
“Your mother asked me to paint you.”
Toby spluttered on his tea.
“She wanted me to paint you seven years ago but I said no. I said that I wouldn’t be able to capture you at that age. She must wait until you were at least thirteen.” Frederick laughed again bitterly.
“So you are painting me because mother asked you?”
“But she’s dead.”
Toby watched Frederick closely. He could see a strain around his mouth.
“You loved my mother.”
Frederick’s head shot up.
“When did you meet her?”
Frederick walked to the sink and came back. Toby waited. That was why he had captured mother so perfectly and that was why her eyes were so filled with love.
“All my life I knew her and yes, you’re right I loved her.” He stopped and turned to the portrait.
“Is that why you and father argued?” Toby didn’t find it strange that Frederick loved his mother. How could he not love her? She was so beautiful and filled with joy.
“No.” Frederick turned to Toby. “Yes, I suppose it might have been the unspoken reason. The argument was stupid.”
Toby waited but Frederick did not continue. He was staring at the portrait again.
“How did you know mother?”
“My father was the head gardener on the estate. We were the same age. We grew up together.”
Toby watched Frederick’s eyes drift away. Frederick shook his head then continued,
“She was the one who encouraged my art and encouraged me to travel.”
“Did she love you?”
Frederick shrugged.
“When I came back from studying in Rome she was married to your father, her distant cousin, and you were on the way.” Frederick turned to Toby. “Have I surprised you?”
Toby got up. He didn’t feel like eating any more. He moved to the window. He was here because his mother wanted him to be. She had never told him in all the times he had heard her in the sea yet he knew this was right.
Toby looked out at a solitary daffodil in the brown earth; it looked alone, sad and very out of place.

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